Women’s Work

“We wanted to share the farm with more people, besides just selling flowers/produce/eggs, and I’ve always liked cooking, so we opened a tea-shop/banquet and party venue/farm-stay/sell jellies and jams/run spinning and knitting clinics . . .” It’s a common theme in a lot of what I’ve been reading this past year. He manages the heavy end of the farm – equipment, removing trees, working the land, dealing with larger livestock, and she runs the gardens, cooks, provides hospitality, sells at local shops and farmers’ markets. Just like many men and women did until about 90 years or so ago in the US. Oh, and she probably teaches the kids at home, or supplements their schooling at home.

I was reading about how Community Supported Agriculture and other farm-to-table or farm-to-local market ventures encourage women and minorities, both as producers and as consumers. In addition, almost every issue of Victoria or American Essence magazines have articles about women and their families who farm, raise flowers for the cut-flower market, sell farm-related products and/or art, and other things. This is lauded as beneficial for womanhood [womankind?] in general, and the individuals in particular. Locally grown food and flowers are seen in popular thinking as better than “imported,” more flavorful, healthier with more nutrients, better for the local and regional economy, and morally good. I agree on the flavorful part, especially with certain kinds of seasonal produce. Y’all know my thoughts on strawberries in January (over priced and under-flavored).

Turn the clock back a century or so, and you will find women working in farms and gardens, tending small livestock, making “value-added products” for sale at the local market, or sale to local distributors (butter and eggs especially), and teaching the younger children. As well as doing anything else needed to keep things running and the family fed, clothed, and housed. You know, like the women described as “ag-entrepreneurs” in the magazines and news stories. Everything old is new again, just with a different gloss on what is proper women’s work. The once traditional has become radical, or traditional. It just depends on who you ask.

I’m amused, because of all the emphasis on “You can be anything you want to be as long as it is engineer, computer scientist, or corporate CEO. Or farmer, that’s OK too, but not as OK as being white collar unless you are minority member.” Teaching, making jams and jellies, baking . . . all those are passe until it is part of a back-to-the-land, locavore, farm-education program that also offers overnight stays. Then it’s radical and empowering. But my sense of humor is warped that way.

Women are on average not as physically strong as men. We’re not, on average, as three-D minded as men, we tend to be better at dealing with people and doing language-based things as compared to many men. So why not divide tasks in a way to utilize the skills and talents of everyone involved, to make things more efficient? Lo and behold, we have the wife of the family overseeing food and fiber and flowers, and the gent dealing with heritage-breed cattle and pigs, and running the tractors and other heavy machinery. Not always, and I’m one of the Odds who likes working on some kinds of machines*, but more often than not.

I’m always glad to see a family able to make a go of things like farm-stays, and selling to the local market. A lot of what I’ve been reading is about adapting to current conditions and trends, finding ways to work around limitations and economic glitches, and helping the family hang in there and grow stronger. It’s never easy, and I admire the men and women who can do it, be they grain farmers or running a produce and pasture-to-butcher-to-table operation with local beef, chicken, and pork. Farms need teams, just as they always have. Women have always worked outside the home to an extent, be they taking things to the market town, or working as ale-wives, or selling butter and eggs to wholesalers. Everything old is new again.

*I will happily do engines, sheet-metal, some composites, and chase hydraulic leaks. Please don’t ask me to deal with electrical problems. My brain doesn’t work like that.


11 thoughts on “Women’s Work

  1. I’m a guy and a retired nuclear engineer. Aside from basics like connect the red wire to the positive terminal, the subtleties of electro-magatism still eludes me.

  2. Sheet metal? Masochist.
    (I’m relatively sure there’s a trick to not getting cut all the time, but it’s beyond my ken.)

    The whole feminist ethos of “you’re entitled to ‘have it all*’, and if you don’t, it’s the fault of men in general, and the one closest to you in particular” is deeply toxic.
    Bad things happen, nobody gets everything they want (or even most of it), and resentment festers.

    *Whatever that means. As read, the number of people who could make the claim throughout the entire sweep of history is almost certainly less than ten. And quite possibly less than one.

  3. I think that the ideal would be to do what you are best at. If communication, then be a teacher, etc. If 3D, then be a carpenter. If math is a joy, then be an engineer. Don’t worry so much about gender roles.
    I can garden and wire a house. I am a lousy mechanic and am terrified of sewing machines. Want to bake bread? I’m your woman. I can also cook up some explosives. (I didn’t write that, it was my alter ego.)

    • All I can imagine when running fabric through a machine is my hand getting sewed up into the pillowcase. Loud stabby stabby machines are the things of nightmares. I sew by hand if I’m forced into the task.

  4. Well, of course – it was the established way in the 19th century, and more than just on a farm. If there was a family enterprise, the wife worked at it as much as the husband did. I’ve made note of that in several of my own books, especially in “The Quivera Trail” – where several female characters accompanied their husbands on long-trail cattle drives. (As did several historical women whose’ stories I drew on.) Making a living was a team effort.

  5. Y’all also have finer motor skills than we do, and are steadier with small work/things. As always, it IS a partnership. We do the heavy lifting, y’all do what you do best. Also, the hunter/gatherer split is real… sigh

    • You have never observed my motor skills! I am better with a shovel than with a needle.

      There are the stereotypes and there are the exceptions. Let us exceptions do what we do best, not what the stereotypes say we should do.

      • There are always going to be exceptions, like some of the Norman women who fought alongside their men (or in a few cases without them, if the Byzantine chroniclers were not exaggerating things). Or the man who did very, very fine soldering at TI when my aviation powerplant instructor worked there. Only one of the women and none of the other men were as steady at working under a magnifying glass or microscope as he was.

        • I am not sure that I have the eyesight (not sure of the motor control) any more, but through the 1990s, I was pretty good at using a micromanipulator probe setup (needed to work on integrated circuits; each probe was controlled by three wheels, and the probe array was controlled by another set. With a decent microscope and sharp probes, I could get a fair amount done. A tolerable surplus microscope followed me home when that department was shut down, but rigging proper lighting has been awaiting the round tuit for many years.

          OTOH, my welding is not and never has been pretty. I’m occasionally, but pleasantly surprised to see it stand up to stress.

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